We welcome to the blog today a guest post by Marianne Gingher, editor of Amazing Place: What North Carolina Means to Writers. In this collection of twenty-one original essays, some of North Carolina’s finest writers ruminate on the meaning of place, untangling North Carolina’s influence on their work, exploring how the idea of place resonates with North Carolinians, and illuminating why the state itself plays such a significant role in its own literature. Contributors include Rosecrans Baldwin, Will Blythe, Belle Boggs, Fred Chappell, Jan DeBlieu, Pamela Duncan, Clyde Edgerton, Ben Fountain, Marianne Gingher, Judy Goldman, Stephanie Elizondo Griest, Randall Kenan, Jill McCorkle, Michael McFee, Lydia Millet, Robert Morgan, Jenny Offill, Michael Parker, Bland Simpson, Lee Smith, Wells Tower, and Monique Truong.
In today’s post, Gingher shares some of her impressions from a recent visit to the American Booksellers Association’s Winter Institute in Asheville, where she met and signed copies of Amazing Place for booksellers from across the country.
I sometimes forget how refreshing and necessary a trip to the North Carolina mountains can seem. And I mean “necessary” in a spirit-soaring way. From my neck of the woods in the piedmont, you’re driving west on I-40, rather benumbed by the sameness of it all, and suddenly, somewhere near the Rutherford or Hickory exits, you see the brow of a first mountain. It’s like glimpsing a hint of a drowsing giant.
I have often postponed invitations to the Blue Ridge until all threat of snowy weather has passed. But I am delighted to report that my trip to Asheville on Wednesday, February 11, to sign books and meet booksellers at the American Booksellers Association’s Winter Institute was sunny in every way possible and felt like a celebration. It is deeply gratifying for writers to be around so many folks who are genuinely thrilled about books—and about selling them! Kudos to the planners. Several were from New York and expressed enthrallment with their visit to North Carolina. Gaze out any window of the Grove Park Inn—where the Institute was held—and you can see why: mountains all around, undulating into bluing distances and bristling bare trees like the shiny quills of porcupines. As the sun began to set, clouds turned the colors of valentines.
Conference organizers, bookstore owners and sellers, and authors alike stopped by our Amazing Place table to introduce themselves, inquire about the book’s contents, admire the zippy cover design, and wish Amazing Place a long and happy shelf life. Boy oh boy, were they energized! And this signing event was at the end of a busy conference week.
Friendliness was the vibe of my entire experience at ABA’s Winter Institute. I’d expected to meet several North Carolina-based booksellers, but I wasn’t prepared for the tremendous interest booksellers from California, Montana, Colorado, North Dakota, Michigan, Massachusetts, Texas, and Ohio expressed. The thing was, they’d come to North Carolina, seen it with their own eyes, spent time here, liked what they saw, and clearly wanted to share a sense of that experience with their patrons. “Read these folks!” I told them. “You will get all sorts of perspectives on the state, from politics to lyrical meditations on its beauty.” But what I am compelled to add here, for anybody reading this blog and wanting to know more about the book, is that it’s as much about the state of mind of its inhabitants as about the state. The personal narratives in Amazing Place are about individual authors’ specific connections to the state, but they are uniquely personal and have much to do with each contributor’s journey to becoming a writer.
What good news to hear booksellers (they lined up in droves at our table) exclaim, “We can really sell this book!” or “I can do something with this book.” No matter what part of the country they came from they all seemed to know North Carolinians who visit their stores and hanker after a regular North Carolina literary fix! It was also a pleasure to see our more local friends from Country Bookshop in Southern Pines, Duck’s Cottage in Duck, The Fountainhead Bookstore in Hendersonville, Flyleaf in Chapel Hill, Quail Ridge in Raleigh, the Bull’s Head on the campus of UNC, and other sellers from Gothic Bookshop at Duke and from Manteo.
I’ve been writing and editing and selling books for—holy moly!—at least three decades, and I have to say that the ABA conference in Asheville felt like a homecoming, a family reunion of kindred spirits. We may be living in the era of the download, but the whole experience was very hands-on, face-to-glowing-face, with old-school exchanges of excitement about reading wonderful writing, and of turning pages.
Marianne Gingher is professor of English and comparative literature at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and editor of Amazing Place: What North Carolina Means to Writers (March 2015) and Long Story Short: Flash Fiction by Sixty-Five of North Carolina’s Finest Writers (2009).